Irish Examiner – Alcohol consumption has ‘significant’ influence on suicide rates

Alcohol consumption has a “significant” influence on suicide levels among males at all ages and young women, research shows.

The study says that alcohol has a “much larger” impact on suicide rates than unemployment.

The research, which examines the period 1968 to 2009, claims to be the first to provide empirical evidence demonstrating the link between alcohol, as well as unemployment, on suicide rates in Ireland.

The report said the “relatively lenient”, and falling, tax treatment of alcohol over the past decade did not reflect concerns about high suicide rates among young people.

The authors, Prof Brendan Walsh of University College Dublin and Dermot Walsh of the Mental Health Commission, back calls to make alcohol more expensive through taxation in a bid to reduce consumption.

“The level of alcohol consumption is a significant influence on suicide among men in all age groups between 15 and 54 years,” the report concluded.

Unemployment was also a significant factor in the 25-34 and 35-44 groups.

It said the evidence was less clear for females, apart from the 15-24 age group, where the alcohol link was “significant”.

The research said alcohol was a key factor in the “very rapid” increase in suicide among young Irish males between the late 1980s and the end of the century.

Comparing the period 1968-1987 with 1988-2009, the suicide rate more than doubled among males aged 15-34 and doubled among females aged 15-24.

The research, published in the Economic and Social Review, said alcohol consumption increased from 10 litres per adult in 1988 to more than 14 litres in 2002.

It said the impact of the rise in consumption was “dramatic”, especially in the two younger age groups.

“Over the long-run, influence of alcohol consumption on the male suicide rate has been much larger than that of the unemployment rate. In particular, the rapid rise in alcohol consumption when unemployment was still high in the 1990s was associated with a sharp rise in the male suicide rate.”

The research said the difficulty in reaching at-risk individuals supported the case for “broad-based public health measures such as measures to discourage alcohol consumption”.

The study noted that the incidence of tax on beer had actually declined from 34% of the final price in 1999 to 29% in 2009, with a fall in spirit taxes also.

Price, availability, marketing and sponsorship are among the key issues being discussed by a steering group responsible for drafting a new Substance Misuse Strategy.

This report is due to be published later this year, almost a year late.

It will be up to the Government to decide whether or not to increase prices at a time when the alcohol industry argues the sector is struggling.

Source: The Irish Examiner, 10/05/2011
Journalist: Cormac O’Keeffe